Technology and efficiency - BIMCO Bulletin

Technology and efficiency

TECHNOLOGY AND EFFICIENCY Stenas step towards modular and standardised bulk shipping. By Craig Eason, Journalist and event host. Sweden’s Stena has progressively pushed the boundaries of environmental performance, reflected in the naming scheme of its vessel types. Its latest design is the boldest step so far. Swedish shipowner Stena Bulk is no stranger to developing its own ship designs and testing new ideas. Not all businesses retain such capacity in their operations, but Stena Bulk – part of the Stena Group of companies – has the luxury of Stena Teknik, its own research and development team. This is the department that designed the company’s IMOIIMAX (pronounced IMO-2-Max) vessel, followed by the IMOFlexMAX in 2020, which Stena CEO Erik Hånell sees as a prototype Mark 2 of the IMOIIMAX. Steel cutting for the first of three methanol-fuelled – Stena calls them IMOIIMeMAX – tankers ordered for the joint venture Proman Stena, began in January 2021 for delivery in 2022. And around the same time, Stena Bulk unveiled a new concept – the InfinityMAX, a design taking the IMOFlexMAX design a step further; a kind of IMOIIMAX Mark 3, according to Hånell. However, like the IMOFlexMAX design, this design is not yet heading to the shipyards to be built. InfinityMAX is a product of some serious out-of-the-box thinking from Stena Teknik after working with younger staff members who were focused on sustainability and innovation. Hånell says this latest concept is about looking at all the technologies available and not being constrained by the market of today. “Stena Teknik is very good at innovation, but like all of us who are in shipping, perhaps a little bit conservative. Even though we want to do new things, we put limitations on what we can do because we have a market that we have to consider,” he says. From wing sails to detachable bulk cargo tanks Stena Teknik and Stena Bulk did champion the AirMAX idea a decade ago. This took the notion of using underwater air lubrication to reduce hull friction, a nascent but largely untried concept at the time. The company went as far as building a floating model to trial in Sweden’s waters, but it was not until a commercial developer presented some convincing results some years later that Stena tested it out in reality. So, while IMOFlexMAX, with its Flettner rotors, LNG fuel tanks and solar panels, represents a modern take on shipping with some of the latest technologies beginning to gain traction across the industry, the InfinityMAX goes much further. The latest concept suggests using “shark skin” hull coating, hydrogen fuel, wing sails and, most strikingly, a modular design consisting of detachable bulk cargo tanks or holds, capable of being towed or self-propelled separately in and out of ports, to and from the main vessel. Each modular tank is a standard size and is powered electricity generated from its own wind turbines and solar panels. However, a challenge still to be resolved is how the various modules – which could vary for each deep-sea international voyage – can be securely and safely connected. InfinityMAX has yet to be developed to a point where a classification society has to be brought in to oversee the design and offer an “approval in principle” – one of the first key safety milestones for anything new. Market challenges not technical Hånell says that while nearly all the cleantech ideas for both concepts are available now, or will be very soon, some of the key commercial challenges in the InfinityMAX concept have yet to be resolved, such as creating a market for a modular delivery system. “I think the biggest challenge is going to be the logistics around this; how will it fit into different trades, and so on? The way we look at it is that we need a dedicated customer willing to do this with us. The idea then would be that they have a specific route where we can put this ship and the modules into service,” Hånell says. Initially, he suggests, the new design could lead to empty modules in ports – much as happened during the evolution of containerisation – but this issue could easily be overcome. The modules have been designed to be a maximum of 3,000 cubic metres, the same as the tanks of IMOIIMAX-designed product and chemical tankers in service today. It is a cargo stem size that brokers are comfortable dealing with, Hånell says, so while still being unique in thought, the modular idea can fit into existing market norms as much as possible. There are different module designs, not just for dry and wet bulk cargoes, but for different grades of wet cargoes that have, for example, different storage and transportation requirements. Being focused on future fuels, the company naturally promoted it as if carrying hydrogen, ammonia and captured CO2, but it could just as well be the oil and gas cargoes most tankers ship today. Despite the company’s obvious enthusiasm for innovation, Hånell admits that the InfinityMAX is unlikely to set sail for at least a decade. Not while the company still has plenty of customers ready and willing to use the IMOFlexMax. Connect with BIMCO Facebook Linkedin YouTube